Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, and Deep Ecology

"Rachel Carson went deep and questioned the premises of her society an essential difference from the argumentation pattern of the shallow ecology movement." The Selected Works of Arne Naess, Volume X, p. 89.

"The international, long-range ecological movement began roughly with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, over twenty years ago." Arne Naess, Ecology, community and lifestyle, (published in English in 1989 but in Norwegian in the mid 1970s), p. 210.

"A new idea is, of course, never created by one individual alone. A prophet is one who recognizes the birth of an idea in the collective mind, and who defines and clarifies, with his life, its meanings and its implications." Aldo Leopold, Journal of Wildlife Management, July 1948, cited in Aldo Leopold’s Wilderness, edited by David Brown and Neil Carmony, p. 229.

This blog post is an examination of the relationship, or lack of it, between Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, and deep ecology, as seen by Arne Naess, but also by myself. It is something I have been thinking about for quite some time. I have always been intrigued by the claim by Naess (1912-2009), the father of deep ecology both philosophically and in a movement sense, that he did not invent the deep ecology tendency. Instead, he laid this on Carson (1907-1964), who was educated as a marine biologist, and who died of cancer and heart disease at the age of 56. Naess’s own seminal essay “The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movements: A Summary”, which kicked off the deep ecology trend within the environmental movement, was first published in 1973, some ten years after Silent Spring came out. While there are several brief references by Naess to Carson in his writings, I am not aware of any article by Naess looking further into Carson’s relationship to deep ecology. Linda Lear’s 1997, 600-page plus biography Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature, does not mention or discuss deep ecology or Arne Naess. However, Lear’s 1998 book, Lost Woods: The Discovered Writings of Rachel Carson, p. xiv, does curiously say:
"Carson has much to teach deep ecologists and environmental policy makers as they wrestle with the moral dilemma of whether or not to moderate their demands and conform to political reality."

In the back of my mind, I have long wondered whether or not the view of Carson’s relationship to deep ecology, as expressed in the quotations given above by Naess, were an expression of the genuine humbleness of Naess and a careful examination of Rachel Carson’s writings; or, perhaps, even a conscious political decision by Naess to assist the entry of deep ecology into North American culture. This is a culture frequently beset by a celebration of all things ‘American’, or what seems to be chauvinism to outsiders like myself. Naess, a Norwegian, was European-rooted. Did he think a Carson connection could make the deep ecology pill more palatable to a North American public? (It was, of course, George Sessions and Bill Devall, two U.S, academics, who did the early pioneering work of introducing and popularizing the writings of Naess in the United States.) Another question in assessing someone like Carson or Leopold, both giants of their own times (or anyone else for that matter), is whether the person under consideration is to be assessed “in place” at their particular historical time, or is it from today’s perspective, of what are understood to be deep ecology’s tenets by somebody like myself?

Since coming to support deep ecology in the mid 1980s, I have tried to apply this philosophy to practical and theoretical issues facing environmentalists and greens (see the web site). An eco-philosophy which says this is the theoretical way forward must be capable of demonstrating this in practice for activists, and ultimately for a concerned public. I have also tried to participate in an ongoing critical assessment of deep ecology, where this has seemed to be necessary. One result has been the development of the left biocentric theoretical tendency within deep ecology, which seeks a reconciliation of the natural and social communities, and to which a number of people have contributed. An eco-philosophy must continue to evolve as the world around us changes and also deal with its own internal tensions and contradictions. All of us, who live in industrial capitalist culture, including academics teaching in universities, are subject to powerful pressures to force us to compromise and accommodate to industrial capitalism. Resisting this, and yet continuing to take part in everyday struggles, plus projecting an oppositional path forward like deep ecology, tests all of us.

Why was Carson chosen by Naess, rather than Leopold, who was educated as a forester, and who has sometimes been called North Americas first pre-deep ecology deep ecologist? (See for example the 2004 Green Web Bulletin #76, Nova Scotia Forestry and Anti-Environmentalism) Naess had also read Leopold and cites him several times in his writings, as we can see in Volume X of The Selected Works. Leopold’s Land Ethic and the view that humans are “plain members of the biotic community” have been enormously influential among those who have organized to put the Earth first. Quotes from Leopold, e.g. “Thinking like a mountain” and, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise”, are not only on many forest activist and wildlife defenders’ lips but are scattered through the ecocentric environmental literature that has come out of North America. Leopold also made an important distinction about how forestry and wildlife are seen, in his Land Ethic essay –what he called “the A-B Cleavage.” This can be seen as a precursor to the “shallow/deep” distinction made later by Naess in the early seventies. Leopold said in A Sand County Almanac:
“One group (A) regards the land as soil, and its function as commodity production; another group (B) regards the land as biota, and its function as somewhat broader.” (pp. 258-259)

In my own writings, I have frequently referenced Aldo Leopold in a deep ecology context or in forest and wildlife discussions. After reading Curt Meine’s Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work, I saw that Leopold is also a role model for what has come to be called “restoration ecology.” In 1935, Leopold ‘bought’ a Wisconsin “sand county” farm which had seen much better days, and, with his family, actively engaged in ecological restoration work. This included much planting of trees, prairie grasses, shrubs and also wild flowers. Yet Leopold’s is a contested image, both within deep ecology and among that public which has an interest in land use issues. One of my deep ecology mentors, the Australian Richard Sylvan, while considering Leopold’s Land Ethic ‘subversive’, did consider this “primarily a human-centered ethical system.” This is discussed in Sylvan’s 1994 book (with David Bennett), The Greening of Ethics: From Human Chauvinism to Deep-Green Theory.

I have to strain to remember, despite past involvement – like Carson in biocide issues and to a much lesser extent with marine issues – quoting her philosophically. I have used Carson’s, “In nature nothing exists alone” (Silent Spring, p. 55), which is a guide to the always unanticipated disastrous consequences of so many ‘development’ interventions, including biocide spraying. Carson is undoubtedly influential, particularly on chemical spraying matters, and in enhancing our respect for sea and marine life. Yet, I would argue that, at least on the surface of things, she does not seem to have an influence equivalent to Leopold’s in a philosophical sense within the deeper environmental and green movements which take an interest in such matters.

What has become Carson’s signature, and last, book Silent Spring, published in 1962, was singled out by Naess for reference. There is a trilogy of quite wonderful ocean-related books by Carson: Under The Sea Wind (1941), which is my favourite; The Sea Around Us (1950, and 1960 with added data); and The Edge of The Sea (1955). Naess only refers to Silent Spring in his brief comments about Carson. Perhaps he had not read her other books? If so, does this matter, as regards Carson’s relationship to deep ecology?

For background prior to writing this blog post, I re-read Silent Spring but also for the first time read the other three ocean books; plus other material on Rachel Carson’s writings, including Linda Lear’s over 600-page very helpful biography, Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature; and the book, also edited by Lear, Lost Woods: The Undiscovered Writings of Rachel Carson. For comparison purposes, I have re-read Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac – the collection of essays published after his death in 1949 – plus other biographical material, including Curt Meine’s 600-plus-page seminal, Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work. Meine’s book was republished in 2010, with “A Reader’s Testimony” by Wendell Berry: “Of all the conservationists who have preceded us, Leopold was the most radical, the most complete, and therefore the most needed.” (p. xv)

Rachel Carson’s contributions – in furthering our understanding of marine and biocide issues, and as an interpreter of the wonders of the marine natural world for others, plus in some of her essays and speeches of alerting the public to the menace of radiation and the atomic age and nuclear war – have been enormous and are not in question here. I also believe that her own life struggle, in the cultural context of her time, clearly shows she became a feminist role model for others in what was (and still is) essentially a male-dominated world.

One distinction we need to keep in mind, is that between ideas and activism in any evaluation of Carson’s or Leopold’s relationship to deep ecology. Naess himself was not only a philosopher/theoretician but also a movement builder. We need to look at the influence of these two people from such a perspective. Thus one important question is not only whether their ideas were compatible or incompatible with basic deep ecology themes, a central concern of this blog post. But another question, and harder to definitely answer, was: did Carson and Leopold also inspire people to become involved in environmental activism? And if so, was that involvement more on a deep or a shallow basis? Here in Nova Scotia, both in “wildlife management” and forest issues, Leopold is quite often invoked to justify shallow ecological positions, as he can be invoked by deep ecology supporters. So his legacy is contested. This testifies to the utilitarian magic that can be linked with his name and the various competing and contradictory theoretical tendencies displayed in Leopold’s own life. Did Arne Naess sense such contradictions, and this is why he aligned deep ecology with Carson and not Leopold?

Both Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold did not openly oppose industrial capitalism or the ‘private property’ laws imposed on the natural world in the society in which they lived. Both were reformers, not revolutionaries, and they operated within the system. Leopold, a man aware of other cultures and history, was an organizer throughout his life and involved with many different groups and wrote many articles, which were not only thoughtful but often amusing and self-deprecating. Carson, who had many scientific contacts from her work in the federal government and a vast store of knowledge and ability to get on top of complicated issues, was not by inclination a crusader, but a writer. Leopold helped co-found the Wilderness Society in 1935. Carson, although miles out in front of her contemporaries on pesticide issues and natural history writing, explicitly said in Silent Spring on a number of occasions, that she was a reformer and not an abolitionist of biocide use: “It would be unrealistic to suppose that all chemical carcinogens can or will be eliminated from the modern world.” (Silent Spring, p. 216) She was not against selective or spot spraying of “least toxic” chemicals. Carson did not oppose the testing of chemicals on animals.

Both Carson and Leopold were life-long naturalists, with Carson mainly oriented to the sea (in this sense Silent Spring was out of character) and Leopold to forests, wildlife, and wilderness. Leopold, unlike Carson, has to be seen as a philosopher based on his writings. Carson wrote from a non human-centered viewpoint. Speaking of her first published book. Under the Sea-Wind, she said:
“In writing the book I was successively a sandpiper, a crab, a mackerel, an eel, and half a dozen other animals…I very soon realized that the central character of the book was the ocean itself.” (Linda Lear, Lost Woods, p.56.)

Carson conveys through her nature writings, that true understanding of the natural world is not about “naming” something one is contemplating, but requires an “intuitive understanding of the whole life of the creature.”  (See Preface, The Edge of the Sea, no pagination.) This is fundamental deep ecology.

One significant difference between Carson and Leopold, was that Leopold (and his family), killed an amazing amount of wildlife during his career. Curt Meine’s biography really brings this point home, which I had not grasped before. The biography also notes that Carson criticized Leopold for his hunting focus. (p. 525) Before reading Meine, I had been completely seduced for many years by the wolf-killing, “green fire” transformed Leopold, as depicted in the “Thinking Like a Mountain” essay. I was therefore astonished to learn that as late as 1945, in a discussion of deer politics in Wisconsin, wolf killing was still on: “Leopold voted in favor of a re-enacted bounty on predators.” (p. 468) It is important to see that Leopold, despite his philosophical contributions, never rose above seeing hunters as a social base with which he identified. His very real ethical progression over his lifetime, and his concern for conservation and the establishment of wilderness areas, must not overlook that he remained a gunner, and later a bow hunter. As someone who has hunted in the past but no longer does, I think that, as primary consideration for the deep ecology supporter, wildlife must be valued in its own right, and not as a ‘resource’ for humans. Any bowing to the hunting community must be very secondary to this. Today this often means opposing those who want to hunt or fish the remnant wildlife in industrial society. In Nova Scotia, as elsewhere in Canada, wildlife is ‘managed’ for the shooting, fishing and trapping crowd – thankfully a diminishing minority of the population.

Those who read between the lines of this blog post will see that I am quite conflicted about evaluating the relationship of Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold to deep ecology, and to which of these persons I give priority. Although I identify personally more with Carson’s life and work, I feel Leopold has been much more influential philosophically, and, although this is a more subjective call, that Leopold also is more influential from a movement-building perspective. However – and despite bringing out some of the contradictions in their lives, which seem to eat away at a hundred percent ecocentric consciousness – I am quite prepared to accept both these two amazing people as advance scouts of the deep ecology movement in North America. However, biocide use is worse than ever in the United States and Canada since Carson’s time, and predators, long after Leopold’s death and all the celebratory literature, are still being eliminated today if they are seen as threats to human-desired ‘game’ or even, as here in Nova Scotia with coyotes, as a ‘danger’ to humans in the woods. The deep ecology worldview is needed more than ever, if we are to truly aspire to Aldo Leopold’s goal of living off the land without abusing, spoiling, or destroying it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Paths to Deep Ecology

“The supporters of the deep ecology movement are all over the world. A small minority are from the universities, a tiny fraction are writing about these matters, but our real strength is with those who don’t give lectures but who are supporting the deep ecology movement in their lives.” Arne Naess, The Selected Works, Volume Ten, p.16.

“An essential aspect of the deep ecology movement is activism: from theory to practice, and from practice to theory. One may express it like this: the full meaning of a theory can only reveal itself in practice, and practice is blind without theory.” Arne Naess, The Selected Works, Volume Ten, p. 87.

“A very common comment by people hearing a description of deep ecology for the first time is ‘But I’ve always thought this. I just did not have words for it.’” Naess, The Selected Works, Volume Ten, p. 124.

The natural world is crumbling around us and deep ecology arose as a response to this in the early 1970s. I recently came across a quote from Aldo Leopold which places the work of Arne Naess in a context to enable us to better understand the significance of this Norwegian eco-philosopher, as it does for Leopold himself. Leopold, writing in 1948, said, “A new idea is, of course, never created by one individual alone. A prophet is one who recognizes the birth of an idea in the collective mind, and who defines and clarifies, with his life, its meanings and its implications.” (Cited in Aldo Leopold’s Wilderness, edited by David Brown and Neil Carmony, p. 229.)

Based on interacting with others who have become supporters of deep ecology, my experience is that paths to this deeper ecological awareness are highly personal. There are however some commonalities among those who end up with a consciousness that removes humans as the centre of ethical discourse; and who have come to appreciate and fight for the belief that humankind has to share the planetary living space on a basis of equality with other plant and animal species, who have as much right to flourish as us.

Most with this ecological awareness were already on a deep ecology path without ‘knowing’ it, in an intellectual sense. This was also true of me. In April 1983, prior to becoming conscious of deep ecology and Arne Naess, I gave a presentation to a public hearing of the Nova Scotia Royal Commission on Forestry dealing with the various dimensions of pulp mill forestry. This is, in part, what I said about the ecological perspective, which I was later to discover could have been lifted from any deep ecology- influenced text:
“The ecological perspective rejects man’s supposed domination over nature. This domination is referred to as the homocentric or anthropocentric viewpoint which sees the environment primarily in relationship to how it ‘benefits’ human beings…The anthropocentric viewpoint is the basis of all environmental management perspectives where the goal is the exploitation of nature in the most efficient and rational manner possible. Such a viewpoint is fully compatible with the different but existing forms of political economy, e.g. in the United States of America and the Soviet Union.” (Presentation published by the Gorsebrook Research Institute of Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, under the title “Pulpwood Forestry in Nova Scotia and the Environmental Question.”)

People who have ended up on a deep ecology path often have reputations as dissidents or ‘hard to get along with’ or as ‘difficult’ in mainstream environmental and green circles. This is because the deep ecology-influenced activist comes to oppose the conventional wisdom which permeates the discussion of environmental or green electoral issues. This conventional wisdom always accepts, at heart, the continuance and legitimacy of the industrial capitalist system and its institutions, and says nothing about ever-increasing human populations. My own experience here in Nova Scotia has meant opposing support by mainstream environmentalists for Btk spraying, seen by them as an acceptable ‘lesser evil’ to chemical biocides; opposing support for ‘sustainable development’ after the Brundtland report first appeared; opposing the embracement of Forest Stewardship Certification; and more recently, opposing the ‘regulation’ of off-highway vehicles and hence their legitimacy; opposing the ‘traditional use’ of proposed new wilderness areas by hunters, trappers, and off-highway vehicle users, which mainstream environmental organizations go along with, from the deep ecology perspective that wilderness should be primarily for non-human life, not human pleasure; opposing the rush to industrialize the rural landscape with large wind turbine ‘farms’, etc. (Articles expressing the listed perspectives are on the Green Web site.)  There is often quite a conscious attempt by mainstream environmentalists to exclude deep ecology supporters from giving their views in public discussions, and this has also been my own experience.

Part of supporting deep ecology for the activist is to apply deep ecology to theoretical AND practical environmental issues. This means, as Marx noted so long ago, to actually change the world and not only interpret it. I think that, to fully adopt deep ecology is to become an agent of social change. The shallow/deep distinction made by Naess, once grasped, shows there is much work to do for the deep ecology supporter within industrial capitalist society.

Access to the natural world is important, it seems, at a crucial time in one's life, usually when one is young, for people who end up as deep ecology supporters. This was clearly so for Arne Naess himself, as he so described hours on the seashore as a child looking at creatures in tide pools, and for Green deep ecology theorist John Livingston as a boy exploring the ‘undeveloped’ ravines in Toronto. When one reads biographical material for two United States ecological thinkers – Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson – one sees that both spent hours pursuing nature education in their youth. These two are seen by some, including myself, as ‘pre-deep ecology’ deep ecologists. (Naess himself assigned an important role to Carson, regarding the origins of deep ecology in the United States but not for Aldo Leopold. Yet I have come to believe that, philosophically, Leopold came to have a greater influence than the author of Silent Spring.)

Early access to a tamed nature in an English context was important for me. We lived in an area of Portsmouth called Copnor. A large pond – Baffin’s Pond – opposite our house, had many kinds of waterfowl, including swans, and us locals fished there for eels and carp. The pond had reed beds, an island, and quite a number of trees – weeping willows around the edges – and park benches for people to sit on. When my father retired from working ‘on the bench’ at a local aircraft factory, he became known as “The Birdman of Baffin’s Pond” for his work in looking out for the well-being of the waterfowl and was so eulogized in the local paper when he died in 1984. A short walk away from our home was Langstone Harbour, a vast tidal expanse of exposed mud flats. I remember going ‘cockling’ when the tide was out. A longer walk, but suitable for a day excursion, was to Farlington Marshes, where one could walk along a sea wall and see many different kinds of geese and ducks. One could also feed off the blackberry bushes which grew in impenetrable clumps on the marshes. The war meant that Porstmouth, as a naval port, was sometimes bombed, so children were evacuated to the countryside. This gave me more opportunities to explore what remained of the natural world in an industrialized, highly populated, society.

The influence of teachers or a ‘significant other’ often seems important for those on the eventual deep ecology path. The teacher influence is, at an early stage, either family, e.g. a parent, or later, a school teacher. I attended a technical school which basically prepared students for industrial apprenticeships. It was the wrong school for me, but I still remember with fondness the teacher who led the field club of which I was a member. Later, as a shipwright apprentice in the Portsmouth dockyard (starting in 1949), there was a foreman who had served overseas and brought an appreciation of eastern religions back with him. He helped me to see that my future did not necessarily mean a life in Portsmouth as a dockyard ‘matey’. An additional influence for nature awareness was joining a saltwater rowing club, which introduced me to boats and the sea. Club members rowed in races all along the South Coast at various regattas. We also camped out some weekends by rowing across to the Isle of Wight in larger clinker-built boats, which we called galleys.

Deep ecology influence can be acquired through ‘intellectual conversion’, that is, when one reads significant books for the first time. Livingston’s Rogue Primate and The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation, and writings by Naess like Ecology, community and lifestyle were important books in my own theoretical journey. Coming across the eight-point Deep Ecology Platform seems to have impacted many who gravitate to deep ecology. Intellectual conversion can involve coming in contact, in one’s adult life, with someone who is a deep ecology proselytizer. Here a personal journey meshes with deep ecology philosophy. A new language becomes apparent which helps the activist to separate her- or himself from the dominant thought processes of industrial capitalist society. Converts come to see that, as Arne Naess notes, there is an eco-philosophy which makes sense of one’s own life experiences in combating human-centeredness – there is now a community of like-minded people and the knowledge that one is not alone in sharing the ‘madness’ of deep ecology. Very importantly, the new convert is inspired to see that there is indeed a common path forward, to which others can be introduced to and rallied to support. One’s own work needs to relate to and acknowledge this common path. This is a denial of the individualism so promoted by industrial capitalist culture – and cultivated by so many authors who write about environmental issues, as if they alone have a unique wisdom.

Many people come to a deep ecology awareness based on their own practical and emotional experiences of identifying with the natural world in their personal lives, and getting engaged in various fights with the habitat annihilators and in defence of wildlife under attack. There are several activists I know of, who have spent years of their lives struggling to apply deep ecology-type ideas and only much later come to realize that there was actually a philosophy which now gave them the language to more fully articulate and express their self-taught beliefs.

My experience is that it is relatively easy to have a basic unity of thinking and consequent actions relating to Nature, among those who have embarked on a deep ecology path. Once there is agreement about the basic philosophy, people become self-motivated change agents, and organizational structures are minimal. But, whereas opposing human-centeredness seems to be a great unifier, actually getting agreement on political, economic and cultural issues and on how to bring about the termination of industrial capitalist society, seems rather more difficult to achieve. To address this, a Left focus has emerged within deep ecology – a theoretical tendency called Left Biocentrism. Thinkers like Richard Sylvan, Andrew McLaughlin, John Livingston, Stan Rowe, Judi Bari, Rudolf Bahro, Andrew Dodson, Fred Bender, and the left bio internet discussion group, have all contributed to this tendency, which is still evolving.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

‘Restoring’ Nature Dilemmas

"Nowadays a forest needs human inhabitants who devote some of their time to its management. Thus in the long run human beings can be of use in improving the conditions of life on earth." (Arne Naess, Life's Philosophy: Reason & Feeling In A Deeper World, p. 110.)

"Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect." (Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, pp. xvii-xix.)

I am conflicted about my attitude towards the “restoration” of ecosystems and forests, and wildlife reintroductions, within industrial capitalism. My personal orientation is “Nature knows best”, which is reinforced, I believe, by the main revolutionary thrust within deep ecology. Is there any “restoration” role for humans who are sensitized about being Earthlings, in their personal consciousness? I have an awareness of my own ecological ignorance, despite my sentiment for the wonders of the natural world and having lived, for about twenty six years now, on an old hill farm, which was once partly clear-cut but now has returned to being a forest and a wildlife habitat.

Having read John Livingston, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, and Stan Rowe – all naturalists who I much admire – has been a humbling experience for me. I think that it is an expression of human arrogance to believe that we have the knowledge to replace, restore, or build up ecosystems that have been degraded or destroyed, and forests that have been levelled. It seems absurd to hear developers (habitat annihilators) sometimes sentenced to replace a wetland they have destroyed, if somehow their particular environmental atrocity ended up in court. It also seems dead wrong (and lazy) to put tracking devices on birds, marine mammals like whales or seals, or wolves, or grizzly, or polar bears, in the name of some conservation objective. To me, tracking devices deny the “species being” of wildlife. We are ignorant of what impact devices like neck collars for bears, plus the stress of tranquilization, can mean for the survival of the targeted wildlife. It helps awareness to imagine oneself in the place of the animal being “researched”. This would be an application of the teachings stemming from the Councils of All Beings, used to convey all-species consciousness by deep ecology supporters.

Apart from this, how is a newly released wolf (or any other animal) truly wild, if movements and positions can be monitored by telemetry? The use of such high-tech devices means humans are continuing to assert their control, often using the ideological cover of conservation biology, as opposed to non-intrusive data gathering. High tech devices stop us confronting the basic problem that we need to come into a new spiritual relationship with the Earth – an ancestry that goes back thousands of years.

Arne Naess, in his eco-philosophy, back in the early 1970s made a fundamental distinction between what he called “shallow” and “deep” ecology. “Shallow” ecology was human-centered and reformist, in that it did not threaten or call into question the continuation of the industrial capitalist system and the growth of human populations. “Deep” ecology was non-human centered and essentially undermined or subverted this system, as shown for example in the eight-point Deep Ecology Platform. (It is important to note that shallow and deep were used as “argumentation patterns” by Naess and not meant to be applied to people.) Naess, while a brilliant and original thinker, is often difficult to read and can sometimes seem contradictory in his thinking – or it is that the reader does not see the full consequences of the ideas being put forth?

Unfortunately, I think the first quote by Naess in this blog can be read as an endorsement of shallow ecology, and the last sentence of this particular quote for me even invokes the hubris thinking of Murray Bookchin, that humans can guide or improve evolution, i.e. humans are “nature rendered self-conscious.” But there is another “deeper” reading of the Naess quote. Humans can have a necessary role as eco-caretakers if their communities are to sustain relatively wild places and uphold the ecological integrity of their neighbourhoods. This is my personal experience from Nova Scotia, but also, more importantly, the experience of Billy MacDonald, founder of Redtail Nature Awareness. (For an account of MacDonald’s work, see the September 2010 public meeting presentation “ Community Lands Need to Combine Deep Ecology Awareness and Social Justice”)

The overwhelming thrust of the deep ecology philosophy, and of the writings of Naess, is not reformist. Naess expressed it this way: “The direction is revolutionary, the steps are reformatory.” Yet Bill Devall, who played a prominent role with George Sessions in making the ideas of Arne Naess known in the United States, went so far as to counter this spirit of Naess and speak of the environmental movement as a “loyal opposition.” Devall asserted that “Political revolution is not part of the vocabulary of supporters of the deep, long-range ecology movement.” (Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism, p. 386.) The Academy, where many deep ecology-influenced academics are to be found, has tended to politically neutralize this philosophy.

One of the core messages of deep ecology, is that we humans must enter into a new relationship with the natural world, so that our personal identities come to include this world. Nature and non-human life forms have validity in their own right and do not depend upon us for this validity. Presently, when humans make a living, we destroy the natural world. One should expect that Naess and someone like Aldo Leopold – who has sometimes been called, North America’s first pre-deep ecology deep ecologist, will be superficially ‘read’ and trotted out in support of shallow ecology positions and mainstream “resource management” environmentalism. For this is the era of massive, pretend environmental concern. We see this for Leopold in the 2008 book by Jamie Simpson, Restoring the Acadian Forest: A Guide to Forest Stewardship for Woodlot Owners in the Maritimes, which misleadingly invokes the legacy of Leopold in justification of the shallow ideas being put forth by the author. (See my review of his book.)

Naess has told us that within deep ecology “the front is long” – meaning that there are many different areas to work on, for those who are trying to apply deep ecology. While this advocacy of tolerance is admirable, for example compared to the feuding we have often seen in social ecology, what if the different deep ecology paths seem to be in conflict? Richard Sylvan, the Australian original “bad boy” critic within deep ecology and a forest activist – and someone whose thinking I came to admire – stressed to me that this philosophy does have its common “tenets.” What if someone is using “private property” legislation to admirably buy up lands to protect ecosystems and wildlife under the banner of deep ecology, and yet seems to keep quiet about a basic tenet of this philosophy, that humans cannot “own” the Earth? Naess and other thinkers have shown us that “the earth does not belong to humans.” Will such restoration work, when it does not overtly challenge but uses “private property” laws, also assist the overall industrial capitalist social system’s continuity, rather than assist creating cultural conditions for its demise? Is this not a major flaw of wildlands philanthropy, which is so celebrated in Canada, the United States and Latin America?

A similar private property dilemma is faced here in Nova Scotia where I live, by the Friends of Redtail Society, of which I am a member. This Society was formed to purchase 313 acres of forested land, basically to protect the ecological integrity of Redtail Nature Awareness. It has until December 2010 to raise the $250,000 purchase price. When I was asked to publicly endorse this appeal on their web site, this presented a restoration dilemma for me. This is how I resolved it:
“The Friends of Redtail Society is trying to stop, by purchase, the destruction of over 300 acres of Acadian semi-wilderness forest land, located in the vicinity of the Nature-bonding educational center Redtail Nature Awareness, near Scotsburn, Pictou County, Nova Scotia. I support their cause – an inspirational new community-based land use project, rooted in a deep ecology awareness, and in opposition to the current industrial forest model. Industrial forestry not only liquidates the living forest but also liquidates any possibility of rural communities living in some kind of sustainable economic relationship with forests. I also endorse the view of Arne Naess that ‘The earth does not belong to humans.’ Unfortunately, until the ecological and social changes come about that will eliminate private land 'ownership' one is forced to raise money to "purchase" this land so that it can be saved from destruction.”
(See the Friends of Redtail Society web site.)

Another example of conflict surfaces in deep ecology forestry work. I wrote about the two paths in such work in the 1995 Green Web Bulletin #44:
“One is a reformist path, which defines some kind of eco-forestry and its certification, within the existing industrial system. Renegade foresters are active on this path... The other path, less well developed, and in the left biocentric camp, states that a ‘sustainable forestry requires a sustainable society.’ It calls for, and is working toward, the dismantling of existing industrial society as part of a deep ecology forestry strategy.”

People who express concern about the decline of the natural world and say they want to do something about it in their own life’s work – as opposed to those who clearcut forests for personal profit, fish blue fin tuna to extinction, or infill wetlands for housing projects, etc. – seem obvious studies in contrast. Yet it is the assumptions of the (for want of a better term) “do-gooders” – my side – which continue to haunt me. How can a person not feel conflicted about trying to do “good works” on a land base, over which one may have some limited control (but not forgetting that the provincial governments in Canada ‘own’ the subsurface mineral rights and, through taxation policies, also influence land use, regardless of private ownership), while the society in which one lives continues to trash the living world, and there is no real change in sight?
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Has this blog post resolved anything about the various dilemmas around ‘restoration’ work in Nature? I still think that Nature knows best, and that we have limited knowledge about the long-term efficacy of any of our interventions into trying to change the world around us. Deep ecologist Richard Sylvan (with David Bennett) in his 1994 book The Greening of Ethics: From Human Chauvinism to Deep Green Theory was bold enough to state the overall perspective within which our transitional restoration activities need to be placed: “Deep environmental groups should begin to prepare, carefully and thoroughly, for revolutionary action.” (p. 220) In our context, this means that industrial capitalism itself has to be dismantled and restoration work needs to somehow assist this objective and not avoid it. Contrary to Bill Devall, we are not a “loyal opposition” playing within the rules of the industrial capitalist game, which will eventually sink us all unless turned around. The task to change this is indeed a revolutionary one, and any reforms we are engaged with must keep this higher purpose in the forefront of our thinking. There must be some public expression of this, so as to rally others. In the short term, we have to play by the existing rules of industrial society, if we are to preserve parts of ecosystems and the remnant wildlife. But our basic message – that industrial capitalism has to go – must never be hidden, as is often the case with those engaged in restoring the natural world in some way. We are, as another Australian, ecologist Tim Flannery has called us, “The Future Eaters.” There can be no sustainable anything, in the long term, in an unsustainable society.